Chico Hot Springs
Paradise Valley, Montana

Chico Hot Springs is a resort located about an hour north of Yellowstone National Park on the Wyoming/Montana border. Throughout the year, visitors flock to this resort to bathe in its healing waters and spend quality time with the family. During the summer months, the resort offers horse back riding, a Shakespeare festival, unlimited recreation from river rafting to hiking, to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. The block buster movie, The Horse Whisper was filmed in the next valley over from Chico Hot Springs. The road that exits from all major highways also substitutes as Chico's own light plane runway. But one thing that this resort has that they're not willing to talk a whole lot about is a cast of ghosts.

I've never considered myself too psychic in the grand scheme of things but sometimes you just know when something isn't right. This is such a case.

The original resort building which houses a bar, restaurant, front desk and lobby, three stories of rustic hotel rooms with shared bath, and the naturally heated pools that makes Chico so popular, was built in 1900 . In order to go from either the other newer hotel buildings or from the 1900 building to the pool, you have to walk through the main first floor of the hotel rooms. The first time I looked at the baths, I didn't sense anything particular. However, on my second visit where I actually soaked in the pool, I immediately picked up that this building was haunted with a WOMAN ghost. In all of the haunted places I've gone to, this was the first where I sensed such a strong feeling; except I had no idea that this building was haunted, nor did I particularly want to spend time in a haunted resort.

In my soakings in the pool that afternoon, I actually spoke to a woman who was the props manager in the recently released movie The Horse Whisper. She fell in love with Montana and a cowboy and decided to never return to Los Angeles. We spoke about life in Montana, especially the winters. And then I popped the question of whether she had heard any stories about haunted properties in this area of Montana (I was trying to be inconspicuous). She replied, "I don't know about other places, but this building is haunted."

My next visit was to the front desk that evening. The front desk clerks were counting the days receipt when I asked the man and woman working there if they knew anything about the place being haunted. The man looked extremely annoyed and said flat out NO! Then the woman, who was college age, told me that she had something to give me, which she retrieved from the back office. Sure enough, there it was in black and white.

Here is the basics:

Originally named Chico Warm Springs Hotel, it opened in 1900 by owners Bill and Percie Matheson Knowles. The resort promoted itself as a cure to rheumatism, stomach and kidney problems, and all skin and blood diseases. Against the will of Bill's wife, Percie, Bill built a bar in the resort and obvious spent too much time in it as he died 10 years later from cirrhosis of the liver (I guess he didn't soak enough in his pool) and was was buried in the Chico Cemetery. This left Percie and her 12 year old son to run the place on their own.

However, Percie's dream was to run the hotel as a hospital and she did. However, in 1925 the hotel/hospital fell into disrepair when the doctor Percie hired , decided to retire. As the resort began to decline, so did Percie's health and her mind. She confined herself to a rocking chair in room 351 for many years after this and in 1936 she was admitted to the State hospital in Warmsprings where she died four and a half years later.

Through several changes in ownership, the resort went through various remodeling and other changes. However, everyone who worked and/or owned chico, also believed that the Knowles' never left their beloved resort.

Between 1967 and 1972 the resort became alive with ghostly activity. It was written in a book entitled Ghosts of the Old West that author Earl Murray wrote about the experience of two security guards who ran into a ghost. To be brief:

Around 2:00 AM one Sunday, the two officers saw a white smoky looking figure standing near the piano in the lobby. One of the guards tried to snap a photo of the phantom but the flash wasn't connected the resulting photo showed a white spot in a dark room.

Another employee saw a similar apparition in the lounge but had a sensation that the ghost was as much afraid of her as she was afraid of it.

In the winter of 1989, an employee went upstairs early one morning to get a blanket for a customer when she turned around and saw a woman in a dress standing in the room with a blank face. It was cloudy and misty and she was sure it was Percie. After 20 seconds of staring at the figure, the apparition began moving towards her, which was enough for her to get out of that room in a hurry. She did think it would have been interesting if she actually stayed there to see what the ghost would have done but all out fear had something else to say.

Another security guard incident sort of went like this:

It was in January of 1990 when I was doing my 2:30 AM rounds and there were only a few guests in the upstairs building. I was walking on the 2nd floor and passed the stairway leading to the third floor. I stepped back a few paces to the bottom of the stairwell and looked up to see a matronly lady standing at the top landing looking down at me. This was unusual because there were no guests staying on the 3rd floor. The lady was about 5'5" tall and about 45-50 years old. she wore a full length pale blue dress with a high collar and long sleeves w/ white flowers. Her hair was in a bun. She didn't acknowledge my presence whatsoever. I asked her if I could help her and with a face absent of expression, she walked away, drifting without movement of her torso. I ran upstairs to the 3rd floor and the hall was empty and quiet. The lady was gone! However, I detected a sweet fragrance between rooms 346 - 350. I opened room 349 only to find a dark cold room. However, the rocking chair was slightly rocking back and forth. When it turned on the room's light, the chair ceased movement and the sweet fragrance was gone. When I went back to the lobby and explained what happened to the night auditor, she replied "welcome to the Percie Club".

Still, there are other stories about the kitchen and bar. The same guard also experienced one night where he heard banging inside the kitchen. It was about an hour before the night auditor was due and there were no guests in the resort that evening. When the guard went in to investigate the noises coming from the kitchen, the kitchen was dark and no one was to be seen. Just then, he heard the phone ring at the front desk and walked over to answer it. However, there was only an electrical hum coming from the phone. On my way back to the kitchen, I heard a loud radio start playing when I reached the dining room. I tried turning off the radio and lowering the volume but the radio played on unaffected. Finally when I unplugged the radio, the radio stopped and when plugged in, functioned normally.

Another guard at Chico had a strange experience around the bar, the very same bar that Pierce fought with her husband many times about whether the resort should have one.

It was a cold January evening and all of the guests had retired for the night to their rooms. On his way to the bathroom behind the bar, the guard noticed a certain arrangement with the bar chairs. However, when he returned from the bathroom, the chairs were now blocking his free passage from the bathroom. After taking a short walk to see if the night auditor had arrived, he found the auditor's space to be vacant. Later that night and closer to morning, I was doing paperwork with the night auditor and we both heard loud clattering coming from the kitchen. I investigated but as soon as I walked up to the kitchen door, the noise stopped.

Most of the strange encounters at Chico are believed to be that of Percie. But several employees also have encountered what they believed to be a male ghost. Here is what is believed to be the most frightening story at Chico:

"I had gone to bed and was just about to fall asleep. It was fairly dark but a little light from outside was coming through the window. Suddenly a tall figure appeared in the corner of my room. It hovered off the ground, extending almost to the ceiling. It began moving; waving away from the wall and down toward me, then back again. I couldn't see it too clearly but the figure like that of a very tall man wearing something like an overcoat. I could make out athe definite outline of a beard and the facial features, too. Finally, after four or five motions away from the wall and back again, the ghost came right down next to me as I lay in bed. I tried to scream but my throat was paralyzed. I remember rolling out of bed and crawling out into the hallway on my hands and knees. I couldn't bear to go back into my room; after I finally did, I lay in bed with the light on for a long time."

The man also had the same apparition visit his brother in another room two weeks later.

"His girlfriend has just come out of his room and he was lying in the bed with the light out saying his prayers. Suddenly he felt something pressing on his chest, and then whatever it was started shaking him. His bed was right against the wall, making it difficult for him to get away. Then this thing started bouncing him off the wall so loudly that the guy living in the room next door could hear it. Eventually the presence went away and left my brother alone."

There are also many other types of encounters at Chico Hot Springs. Among them are the more regular occurrences like pots banging in the kitchen at night, doors slamming, sounds of a woman moaning and no matter where they place the rocking chair in room 349, the chair will always return to its spot facing the window. A bible in the attic is said to remain free of dust and open to the same page in Psalms, even after employees move the bible. Candles have reported to light themselves in the kitchen.

Whatever haunts this luxury resort, here's some last bits of information. Most of the apparitions occur in the dead of winter when few people are at the hotel. When the hotel was used as a healing hospital, it's believed that many people left our world while trying to be healed at the place. And if you really want to increase your odds of seeing or experiencing something, ask for room 349.

As for me, my own experience only strengthens my beliefs in the hereafter. We didn't end up at Chico because it was haunted. In fact, I wasn't sure until I received the article by the front desk clerk entitled "The lonely lady and other Ghosts of Chico Hot Springs" from which most (but not all) of the above was taken from. But I knew one thing during my second walk to the pool through the old building, the place is haunted by a very sad woman who feels very attached to the place. And that's all I needed to know.